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New Book on Gerard Fortune

Gerard Fortune outside his home in Petionville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince

Gerard Fortune outside his home in Petionville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince

About 2 years ago, while in Haiti on a metal sculpture buying trip, Casey became aquainted with the folk art paintings of Gerard Fortune. Following quickly on the heels of her acquaintance were unbridled enthusiasm and acquisition. She purchased a piece for her personal collection and then set about to meet the artist himself with the idea of carrying his work at It’s Cactus.

"Fox Couple with Pet by Gerard Fortune

“Fox Couple with Pet by Gerard Fortune

Gerard Fortune has long been on the Haitian naif painting radar, and is considered to be one of the greatest living folk art painters in Haiti today. Having said that, however, doesn’t mean that finding his atelier was any small task. It required asking alot of questions in several places around the outdoor art markets of suburban Port-au-Prince and finally offering $20 to a kid on a motorcycle to lead her there. Done and done! The connection was made and now, several wonderful pieces of his work are available on our website.
But that’s not all! A friend, Tony Fisher, who has a wonderful folk art shop in Philadelphia, has sourced a newly published book of Gerard’s work. It is the first and only in-depth study of his life and art and it is BEAUTIFUL! You can order it from him.

The book, “Gerard” does a superb job of tracing his 37-year career, with dozens of full-color photograhs that capture his broad, visionary character of his art. In addition, it tells in words and photographs, the story of Gerard himself, inasmuch as the story of an enigma can be told. What is clear is richness of expression in the life’s work of a talented, gentle soul.

Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

The Rhythm of Life in Haiti is Jazz






Dave Brubeck, an accomplished jazz pianist of international acclaim was quoted once as saying, “Jazz is the voice of freedom.” What a great analogy. Jazz is free-form. Jazz is listening, attention, and focus; it is the creation of musical opportunity, allowing each musician to enrich the sound of the whole.

It’s a little bit like Haiti, actually. Very free-form. There is a certain way in which things fit together but it’s not rigidly written, as notes on a score. While visitors to Haiti often give in to despair at their sense of chaos, Haitians watch, listen, sense, and create a space for themselves in their society. They hear their note. They find their harmony. The rhythm of their lives is jazz.


"Angel Boy With Drum" SM174 by Winzor Gouin

“Angel Boy With Drum” SM174 by Winzor Gouin

How appropriate, then, that this Saturday marks the beginning of the 8th Annual Jazz Festival in the

"Angel with Saxaphone REC277"

“Angel with Saxaphone REC277”

Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. For the next seven days, in venues across the city, jazz musicians from 14 different countries will be performing in concerts, many of which are free. Additionally, there will be “after hours” jam sessions as well as jazz workshops for aspiring young Haitian artists. (A full schedule of events is available here.) http://papjazzhaiti.com/

One of the local headline artists is Thurgot Theodat, who, according the Festival website, plays “voodoo jazz. (Listen here.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UhHnDi6O9jA Just as an entire line of our recycled metal sculpture at It’s Cactus is “Voodoo Inspired” https://www.itscactus.com/catalog/VOODOO_INSPIRED-121-1.html Haitian jazz music can be too. And whyever not?

Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

No Sugar Added

SRS is helping to clean up the streets of Por-au-Prince by paying bottle collectors for plastic.

SRS is helping to clean up the streets of Port-au-Prince by paying bottle collectors for plastic.

Haiti is fascinating; an endlessly interesting place about which to research and write.  The challenge though, as in so many things, is to report with reasonable balance. Sharing good news and bad, resisting the urge to shine and sugar-coat or conversely, to paint a bleak picture in gloomy shades of black and blacker.

That having been said, the story of a company called SRS Haiti is one that can be told in balance.  SRS stands for Sustainable Recycling Solutions, the brain-child of Andrew MacCalla and Brett Williams, who got together with Mike Shinoda of the rock band Linkin Park, and Louis Blanchard, President and CEO of Haiti’s leading drinking water company to clean up the streets of Port-au-Prince under a for-profit business model of collecting plastic waste.   Their idea was to create a social business with a goal of establishing a lasting recycling industry in Haiti. They set out to provide job opportunities to Haitians and help protect the environment by cleaning up the streets. In 2012, the dream became a reality.  SRS opened for business and, in a society that depends largely on word-of-mouth communication, their collection enterprise soared immediately into the stratosphere.

But the blessing of SRS’s meteoric popularity quickly became a problem. Every person who brought in plastic needed to be paid for it, and as it became more well-known, the company simply couldn’t keep up the pay-out. Specifically, in its first month of operation, SRS received more than seven times the amount of plastic it had originally projected. After six months, SRS was completely swamped and had to shut the doors, under the very real threat of having to close down completely.

While the company was dangerously close to the edge, it didn’t fall over into the abyss.  SRS leadership put together business and marketing

This "trash truck" could become the "cash cab."

This “trash truck” could become the “cash cab.”

strategies which they presented to the Clinton Foundation in February of this year.  SRS was awarded a grant of $250,000 which has enabled the company to form partnerships and develop a market for their cleaned, sorted plastic for production of consumer goods. Since that infusion of funding, the future for the company and for Haiti, looks very promising.

According to the SRS website, collectors in Port-au-Prince have removed 4.5 million pounds of plastic from their streets.  Let’s say that the average 16 oz. plastic bottle weighs half an ounce.  (The actual weight varies from approximately .495 to .661 oz.) So some quick rough math reveals that the equivalent of 144 million 16 oz. plastic water bottles have been cleared from the streets and waterways of Port-au-Prince. Also, according to their website, SRS has paid out a little over half a million dollars to those collectors.  More quick math, that is approximately equal to 12 cents/pound. Admittedly, that doesn’t sound like a whole lot and in all honesty, it gives me pause, knowing that the price per pound elsewhere is MUCH higher.  That could be apples and oranges, though.  For now, let’s go with the fact that it IS payout, it IS sustainable, and it IS making a hugely positive environmental impact.

Co-founder Mike Shinoda initially was a something of a silent entity, but he has recently stepped out of the shadows to bring more visibility to the enterprise. Clothing manufacturer Eco Wear has partnered with SRS to buy plastic bottles to create a variety of consumer products, including merchandise for Linkin Park. That’s the fun and “sexy” aspect of the business.  More importantly, though somewhat less flashy, Giant Dragon has also become a major trading partner. With recycling operations in Hong Kong and the Dominican Republic, it announced that it has committed to purchasing a minimum of 4 million pounds of SRS plastic over the next year. To learn more about SRS and its operations, click here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INPIIidauok

Four million pounds of plastic off the streets and out of waterways next year.  No need to sugar coat that.  That’s terrific!


Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus


The Grandes Dames of Port-au-Prince

Architectural detail – The Kinam Hotel

In Haiti at the end of our first day, when we’d ridden back into Port-au-Prince and I’d sponged off most of the village sweat and grime that I’d accumulated over the past several hours, I sat in the courtyard of our hotel, cold beer in hand, and realized that I was being quietly seduced by the charm of the gingerbread architecture surrounding me.

The Kinam Hotel where we were staying is one of Port-au-Prince’s grandes dames of Victorian-style gingerbread architecture in the city.  Miraculously, of the nearly 200 gingerbreads in Port-au-Prince before the 2010 earthquake, nearly all survived.  Their wooden frames and structure had the just enough “give” to withstand the tremors, whereas rigid rebar and concrete buildings crumbled, 40 percent of the total being reduced to rubble. Having withstood the ravages of time and weather for over 100 years, what was a little 30 second rumble?

Gingerbread Victorian homes became popular in Haiti in the latter part of the 19th century.  Native born, Parisian educated architects returned to their Caribbean homeland and plied their trade with relish.  The style was florid, communicating the good life.  Painted in vibrant tropical hues, they nonetheless had their practical elements. High ceilings and turreted roofs directed hot air above the inhabitable space, windows on all sides created a cool cross-breeze even during seasonal stretches of blistering heat, and the frame’s tractability enabled them to weather powerful storms. The only drawback was their combustibility.  Fires ravaged the city of Port-au-Prince not infrequently, and the gingerbreads added a great deal of fuel to the flame.  So much so in fact, that in 1910, new construction of gingerbreads came to be forbidden by mayoral decree.

Another gingerbread gem

In the ensuing years, the gingerbreads remained an iconic symbol of gracious living and were treasured by tourists and the local populace alike.  However, as the economy faltered and the Haitian diaspora came into full swing, those with knowledge of gingerbread construction took it with them, leaving a void in the ability to keep them maintained and viable.  Complicating matters further was the diminishing supply of hardwood material leaving little with which to repair them. Consequently, the lovely gingerbreads of a bygone era are falling apart, collapsing not by a single catastrophe, but bit by bit, plank by shingle.

There is a movement afoot to preserve the remaining grand dames.  Ironically, three months before the

How about this grande dame? RND 383 by Charles Luthene

2010 earthquake, the gingerbreads were put on a “watch list” of the World Monument Fund.  This guarantees the interest in and support for their restoration by the global community.  Several

Haitian heavy-hitters have also rallied to the cause, among them the former president, Michele Pierre-Louis and Jean-Julien Olson, the former cultural minister.  In the gingerbreads they see potential for restoration not only of their beautiful forms, but of the national cultural history they represent.  Backing by the current Haitian government, in the form of legislation blocking demolition, is unfortunately, yet to be enacted.

(Go to the website below and click on the video for further insight)


Still, there is hope.  Says Olson, “These old homes are a reflection of the Haitian people.  Just look how they stand facing the street. They provide space for people to meet and greet each other. That’s the way our society works.  We need to remember that. We talk about building back better, but the whole key to that success is to remember our past.”

Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/Its Cactus

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